Caring for Africa’s Orphans
How God moved Jo Anne Byrum to Zambia to oversee the building and facilitation of orphanages there.
- Jo Anne Byrum, House of Faith Director // September 3, 2009
It is a tremendously heart sinking thing, to see children, so innocent, so joyful, to be plagued with terrible diseases and without the kind of homes needed to not only recover from illness, but to also lead lives worthy of the calling they were created for.
I have transplanted my life to southern Zambia, Africa, to a small community called Silembe that is nearly 90 minutes North-Northwest from Kalomo, one of the early capitals of the nation.
I came here on a journey of faith, ready and willing to help, because I felt the Lord called me here. He called me to serve children like Justine, 12, and Olivia, 12, who are dying from HIV, which causes AIDS and their immune systems to fail. For most of my life, I had been a licensed practical nurse serving in Norfolk, Virginia, nursing homes for the first part of my adult life, so God had developed within me an ability to care for others, especially those that were sick.
Zambia is a place that naturally calls the heart, especially in a sense of the plight of children. There are 1.2 million orphans here out of a population of 12 million. There are an estimated 75,000 street children.
It had taken me awhile—in my early 30s—before I fully committed to Jesus Christ, though I first took a step with Him at 18. Once I surrendered completely, He has taken me on a journey to live more fully in Him and to serve Him. His growth in me initiated my first travels to the African continent for a short term trip in 1998, linking with an evangelistic couple. While the couple’s focus was primarily on teaching and preaching, they interacted and met with families that touched my heart. As I worked alongside some of the children there, I could sense a tug to be more involved with them, perhaps on a long-term basis. I went back again the following year and this time spent a month there, and again felt the same deep connection with the children. While tending to my garden in North Carolina, I got an overwhelming feeling and message from the Lord – go take care of the orphans.
In 2001, I returned to Zambia in a missionary status, with a focus of serving the orphaned children there, and did this for the next six years before circumstances required I return home to the United States. I was not sure how the next step would unfold, but God opened a door in a miraculous way - He allowed me to connect with Global Orphan Relief and they made me the director for House of Faith, which is a project that works to plant and develop orphan houses in Zambia.
The first House of Faith was built in March 2008; the children began transitioning there immediately. I could feel God moving tremendously as soon as the doors were open. The house became a refuge for 24 children at the outset, and has leveled at about 26-27 children at any one time.
A Zambian woman named Elizabeth, one of the members of the particular village where we planted the orphanage, was brought on as the first house mom. Today, she provides cares for 12 girls, while the other house mothers, Daisy and Mary, provide care for boys. Together, all of the house mothers look after the children with special care.
I have continued to oversee the development of the houses and work as a liaison with medical clinics in country and oversee coordination with African medical agencies to get the children the medical care they need, particularly for HIV-related cases. We have planted three houses overall, with three more on the way. Every day we pray that the Lord will provide us with the resources needed to keep serving the way we do.
A typical day here is like any day in a child’s life - feeding them, teaching them, making sure they get the proper hygiene, making sure they are developing in the right way, and much more. The greatest challenge though is when a child gets sick. Zambia is not at all like the United States. We are out in the bush, in places where help is far away, where a bug bite can turn to malaria and kill someone in a matter of days.
The majority of orphans here are treated so poorly that it crushes the heart. Children all over the country are forced to sleep with goats, may not get a daily ration of food, and then when it comes to medicine, it is the bottom of the barrel treatment. But, when these children come to the House of Faith, they are given new lives, because of the attention they receive and because the Lord Himself takes special care of them. As a testament to the work of the Lord, I’ve seen a boy with a temperature of 106-degrees miraculously healed when he was brought in to see a doctor.
Sadly, the orphan population continues here to grow, due to the mother’s in Africa dying in such a rapid rate, by either HIV, tuberculosis, or even a hemorrhage at the child’s birth.
We continue on in Zambia, in faith alone. We know that the Lord has an amazing plan here, to build houses and to build hope. Children that were once deemed dead, inheriting HIV at a very young age, are still living and still moving their lives forward.
Every child has a special place in my heart. It is so touching to know that their lives have a much better track now. I know that there are just 70 orphans (total) out of the thousands in the country, but I know that each one of them is touched forever by House of Faith—and for God, that is enough.
And, so, we pray that He continues to build homes, build hearts, and provide a greater blessing on the poor children of Zambia. Those that labor here know this - as long as we continue to place progress of this project and condition of these children before the Lord, He will provide and display His splendor by developing these children.
----- Those wishing to support this journey can contribute to Global Orphan Relief at www.globalorphanrelief.org.
To directly support Jo Anne Byrum as she builds orphanages, make donations payable to NOAH Ministries, PO Box 1653, Kitty Hawk, NC 27949, Account #NM018.